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Prep girls hockey playoff preview: It's the year of the goalie

Some coaches wait until game time to say who will start in net, ensuring each goalie is equally prepared, but not Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey coach Glen Gilderman.

Some coaches wait until game time to say who will start in net, ensuring each goalie is equally prepared, but not Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey coach Glen Gilderman.

"I was a goaltender," Gilderman said, laughing. "I would never do that. I wanted to know."

Goaltending should make the difference as the Minnesota girls hockey playoffs start today.

Proctor-Hermantown (16-6-1), which has alternated senior Courtney Simmons and junior Kylie Hommerding with quality success, is the No. 1 seed in Section 7A. The Mirage host No. 8 Silver Bay Area (7-17-1) at 7 p.m. today.

Meanwhile, in Section 7AA, No. 2 seed Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (14-8-2) rotates seniors Katie Beckman and Alyssa Acheson with similar success.

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Add the likes of Grand Rapids-Greenway senior Sydney Helmbrecht and Duluth senior Megan Hansen into the mix, and the News Tribune might need to add a couple of spots to its All-Area team to properly accommodate all the quality netminders.

"It's the year of the goalie, no doubt," Gilderman said. "I don't think there is a goalie in our section that we're not worried about."

Simmons is third in Minnesota with a .953 save percentage, while Beckman, a finalist for senior goalie of the year, is fifth (.941), Acheson 11th (.935) and Hommerding 30th (.920).

Proctor-Hermantown used to average nearly five goals per game but has become more defensive-minded. This year, the Mirage average 3.5 goals per game, but are giving up only 1.7.

"When you have two goalies like that, it's a good problem to have," Gilderman said. "They see themselves as a team. They have each other's back, and they're rooting for the other play as much as they'd root for themselves -- probably even more. It's been a cool thing to watch this year."

Cool, that is, when your team is the one getting great goaltending, but tough when it's the other way around.

The Mirage squeaked out a 3-2 overtime victory over Moose Lake Area in their regular-season finale on Monday as senior Kaitlyn Greene -- no slouch herself with a .909 save percentage -- stopped 43 of 46 shots.

"We barely won that game because their goalie was really strong," Gilderman said. "Goaltending is the big wild card in hockey, and nowhere is that bigger than in the playoffs."

Related Topics: HOCKEY
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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